Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch
Starring: Maurice Chevalier, Miriam Hopkins, Claudette Colbert, George Barbier, Charles Ruggles
For years, this 1931 Ernst Lubitsch musical comedy was considered a lost film — with rumors of one known print in the Danish film archives. That’s a situation that usually causes a film to get an inflated reputation, or the exact opposite (usually based on someone’s 40-year-old memory of what their grandmother told them). The latter happened here — bolstered by the fact that it’s the only Maurice Chevalier picture of the era not to produce a hit song. So it came as a wonderful surprise when The Smilng Lieutenant resurfaced — in a sparkling quality print — and turned out to be a pure delight. It’s funny, racy, stylish and sexy — with maybe just a little more heart than you find in most Lubitsch films. It tells the tale of Austrian military officer Niki (Chevalier) making the mistake of winking across a street at his girlfriend Franzi (Claudette Colbert) just as the carriage bearing Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) of neighboring Flausenthurm passes by. She is incensed, but when his subsequent attempt at an explanation makes her think he was flirting with her, she becomes smitten and, before he knows it, he’s married to the princess — a union he refuses to consummate. So while the poor princess spends her evenings playing checkers with her father (George Barbier), Niki continues seeing Franzi. How all this works out is sophisticated comedy at its finest.
In Brief: One of Ernst Lubitsch’s funniest, raciest and most sophisticated films stars Maurice Chevalier as a lieutenant in the Austrian army who makes the mistake of winking at his girlfriend (Claudette Colbert) just as a visiting princess (Miriam Hopkins) passes by. A misunderstanding follows that results in Chevalier having to marry the princess to avoid a court-martial — but he refuses to consummate the marriage and keeps his girlfriend on the side.